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Albert Lortzing
(Born October 23/24, 1801 in Berlin – Died January 1, 1851 in Berlin)

„Der Wildschütz oder die Stimme der Natur“ - „Der Wildschütz or the voices of nature” -
A comic opera in three acts.
Premiere: Leipzig, Germany, December 31, 1842.

Gustav Albert Lortzing was raised in a family of drama enthusiasts who acted at an amateur theatre in Berlin. Musicians were also counted among the Lortzing circle of friends; among these family friends was the director of the Berlin Singakademie, Karl Friedrich Rungenhagen, who gave Albert Lortzing his first lessons in music theory. When Lortzing’s father was forced to give up his leather production business, both parents found jobs as professional actors in Breslau, where the ten year-old Albert gave his theatric debut. Following the work in Breslau, the family endured difficult years as freelancers traveling from city to city. In 1817 both parents joined the theatre company “Derossi.” Albert Lortzing earned a living copying musical scores while studying with various orchestral musicians. He remained self-taught in most of music’s theoretical subjects. At the same time, Albert knew the world of theatre intimately from early on.

Throughout his life, Lortzing was active as an actor, singer (baritone and tenor), cellist, conductor, director, librettist and composer. Until the age of 25, when he married Rosina Regina Ahles, Albert Lortzing traveled with his parents in the theatre world. Regarding his own professional career he stated: “In Freiburg/Breisgau I took the risk of publishing a composition of my own and I wrote a choral piece together with a dance for the theatre play “Der Schutzgeist.” I played the main role… In the year 1824 I composed a one act opera, “Ali, Pascha von Janina,” which was performed during my following position at the count theatre at Detmold, as well as the close by townships of Münster and Osnabrück. The pieces were somewhat well-received.”

In 1826, Lortzing moved to the town of Detmold, where he composed more works, mostly known as “Singspiele.” In 1833 he was hired as a tenor buffo at the town theatre of Leipzig. Ten years later he became the conductor there and spent twelve rather happy years at that house. In Leipzig, Lortzing composed most of the operas, in which he himself performed. In 1845, the theatre of Leipzig discontinued his contract, and after one additional year he was finally hired as the conductor for the Viennese “Theater an der Wien.” In Vienna, Lortzing experienced only limited success. His work “Undine” was criticized for being too German. Lortzing was forced to leave Vienna in 1848 due to the emerging revolution. Two years later in 1850, he began his last post as conductor at the “Friedrich-Wilhelmstädtischen Theater” in Berlin. Lortzing remained utterly unhappy with this final stage of his career, which also marked a low point financially. At the age of 49, after the premiere of his last opera “Die Opernprobe” in Frankfurt/Main, Lortzing died and was in a way liberated from all his hardships.

Lortzing experienced many ups and downs during his life. Though he was quite successful as a composer and singer, he was still unable to escape numerous defeats and failures. He had to fight continuously to meet life’s basic material needs, especially to provide for his eleven children. He was ignored by the significant composers of his time. Yet Lortzing remained positive – and as his letters reveal – sometimes even humorous. He was one of the nicest and most delightful personalities in Germany’s musical landscape.

Albert Lortzing wrote 13 operas, of which basically four survived. Especially in Germany, these four operas remain a core part of today’s standard repertoire: “Zar und Zimmermann” (1837), “Der Wildschütz” (1842), “Undine” (1845) and “Der Waffenschmied” (1846).

„Zar und Zimmermann“ closely follows „Der Wildschütz“ as the most popular and the best of his operas. The plot is funny and entertaining and the libretto is filled with charm and irony. Despite its complex construction and sequencing, it is a masterpiece of dramatic theatre. The major buffo part of the schoolmaster Baculus remains one of the great and unique roles of the genre. The Baculus aria „Fünftausend Thaler“ is one of the major virtuoso bravura pieces of the bass repertoire.

Lortzing himself wrote the libretti for all his operas, which are so-called dialogue operas. But instead of creating his opera story lines completely new from scratch, he used existing theatre plays as starting points. With his extensive theatre experience, he expanded and transformed them into new pieces. “Der Wildschütz” was based on the 1815 comedy „Der Rehbock“ by August von Kotzebue (1761 – 1819). Lortzing added the figure of Baculus, supplemented the play with substantial irony and inserted the so-called billiard scene to the work, thereby greatly improving the quality of the piece.

Lortzing’s works belong to the period of German romanticism. Oskar Bie describes Lortzing as a person whose soul was in great sympathy to that style in Germany. His compositions fall within the “Spieloper” genre: always light, slightly sentimental, tender and highly energetic to help the audience to enjoy the musical theatre to its fullest. The genre was never fully adopted or appreciated by the international opera world, and was always less acknowledged than the Italian buffo operas or the French “Opéra comique.” Yet, the “Spieloper” constitutes one of the basic roots of German opera, and Lortzing is unquestioned as its chief proponent.

The instrumentation for the opera “Der Wildschütz” is highly inventive and of great diversity in color and nuance. The clear and beautiful vocal ensemble parts are comparable to those of Mozart’s operas. An example is the partially a cappella quartet „Kann es im Erdenleben (Unschuldig sind wir alle)“ at the end of the opera. One also recognizes a kinship with Weber’s broadly out-composed, romanticized musical techniques in the overture and the orchestral accompaniment for the count’s aria at the beginning of the third act.

Lortzing made several attempts to create romantic forms of the opera seria, but always failed due to his rather simple and sentimental nature. Lortzing’s unique abilities reach their climax of expression in his opera „Der Wildschütz.” With great skill, Lortzing plays with motifs and the symmetry of musical da capo structures. He successfully bridges the transitions from spoken dialogues to musical sections by allowing musical beginnings to overlap with ending spoken parts, thereby avoiding the all-too-common interruptions in other “Singspiel” operas. Lortzing was opposed to the through-composed operas that were filled with sung recitatives: “What does the most beautiful recitative do for us? ... the Germans cannot sing it. They hear misplaced pathos in almost every word. Why is that? It is because they ignore the fact that all they have to do is sing simple musical dialogue. They refuse to forget that they are solistic singers. They always have the desire to show off how wonderful their voices sound and hence sacrifice the true contents of the music.” (J. C. Lobe: A conversation with Lortzing). Lortzing defended the spoken dialogue as an operatic instrument that supports the continuity of the action and eliminates boredom. Lortzing’s melodies are highly inventive and originate from the traditional German folksong repertoire. Being a singer himself, Lortzing was better prepared to compose for the human voice than most others. The parts that do not ask for “great” singers are simple and charming.

In part, the critique to “Der Wildschütz” was positive: “Mr. Lortzing… is never boring and knows the right time to end. The reviewer is convinced that the so often deadly red marker of opera directors finds the least amount of victims in his writings” (Allgemeinen Musikalien Zeitung, July 19, 1843, signed „Al.“). But as well, some critique was negative: “[The music is] the outcome of a light and limited talent... it neither speaks to the heart with deep feeling, nor does it stimulate the mind with new ideas… While Lortzing will not contribute much to the re-awakening of German opera, he still is able to satisfy people’s daily needs and at least keeps the taste on the level on which it currently stands…” (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, January 19, 1843, signed „K.“).With great success, „Der Wildschütz“ premiered on December 31, 1842 in Leipzig, followed by numerous successes in other German cities (Berlin, Breslau, Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, Mannheim, Stralsund and others). The opera was also well-received in other countries. As soon as 1856 the work was premiered in German in Brooklyn, New York. It was translated into French and published in the form of a vocal score under the title „Le Braconnier“ by Meissonier.

The plot
Location and time: The village Eberbach, 1803.
Count of Eberbach - Baritone
Countess – Alto
Baron Kronthal – Tenor
Baroness Freimann – Soprano
Nanette – Mezzosoprano
Baculus – Bass
Gretchen – Soprano
Pancratius – Bass
A guest – Bass

Act I.
Due to the explosive sound of a gunshot during the overture, the audience learns that in the count’s forest, Baculus has killed a deer for the upcoming dinner festivities: the wedding between Baculus himself and Gretchen will be celebrated. Baculus is the village schoolmaster, and as a punishment for his unlawful hunting in the count’s forest he is scheduled to lose his position. Gretchen wants to visit the count at his castle to ask for forgiveness for her future husband. Baculus, however, is utterly jealous, since the count is a well-known flirt.
Help arrives in the person of the Baroness Freimann and her maid Nanette, who are disguised as a student and young man. The baroness offers to present herself as Gretchen and, instead of Gretchen herself, to speak to the lustful count. The situation and her offer are quite suitable to the Baroness, who intends to visit the Count incognito. The Count is her brother who wants her to marry the Baron Kronthal, who is disguised as a stable boy. The baroness Freimann, of course, wants to observe her future husband while protected by her own disguise. The count and the baron arrive with other hunters and staff in the village. Both are charmed by the appearance of the baroness, who is disguised as Gretchen trying to help her future husband Baculus. The count Eberbach invites her to join him and his friends for his birthday party, scheduled the following day.

Act II
On the same day, Baculus accompanies the disguised baroness to the castle. Baculus wants to receive help from two ends and asks the baroness to help him. He does not succeed, since the count interrupts their conversation. The baroness believes that the stable boy has fallen in love with her. But both the count and the “stable boy – baron” flirt aggressively with her. Believing that he has fallen in love with Baculus’s future wife Gretchen, the count offers Baculus a great sum of money (5000 Thaler/coins) to leave Gretchen for him. Due to the attractive financial offer, Baculus forgets that the count has actually fallen for the disguised false Gretchen and agrees with the offer.

It is the day of the count’s birthday. When Baculus presents the real Gretchen to the count, the 5000-Thaler contract is of course cancelled. The guests gape in shock and disbelief. But the situation is filled with humor and relief when everyone realizes that both the count and the baroness as well as the countess and the false stable boy (baron) are relatives. The laughter-filled moment dispels confusion and suddenly all are sympathetic. The not-so-platonic feelings of desire are now replaced with the phrase “we are all innocent.” At last, it becomes evident that Baculus did not kill a deer in the count’s forest, but instead his own monkey. Hence, he is allowed to keep his position as schoolmaster and can now marry Gretchen.

Irmelin Mai Hoffer, 2004

Translation: Tom Zelle, 2005

Performance material: Schott, Mainz